On Monday, October 5, Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuelan government won its appeal in a lawsuit filed against the Bank of England concerning access to more than $1 billion in gold bullion. With this judgement, the England and Wales Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court’s decision to block Maduro’s government from accessing its gold bullion reserves housed at the Bank of England. The BBC reports that while this is an auspicious turn of events for the Maduro government, the verdict will only grant access to the bullion pending another review of the case.
According to the Bloomberg, the court’s ruling will allow the legitimate government of Venezuela to access to the gold bullion. However, the validity of Maduro’s rule has been internationally debated since 2018.
Maduro claimed victory in Venezuela’s 2018 election and was sworn in as President of Venezuela the following January. This concern over the election’s legitimacy convinced most Western nations, including the United Kingdom, to recognize Juan Guaido, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the interim leader of Venezuela.
Financial Times explains that while most nations who recognize Guaido as the legitimate Venezuelan head of state revoked all official recognition of the Maduro government and its functionaries, the United Kingdom has not. Despite the U.K.’s recognition of Guaido, Maduro’s ambassador still occupies the Venezuelan Embassy in the U.K. and Guaido’s envoys have not been granted any official diplomatic status.
Business Insider cites Judge Nigel Teare, asserting “there cannot be two presidents of Venezuela” and that the British government must take an unambiguous stance in both speech and action on who they recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Only then can the courts decide who has the legal authority to access the Venezuelan gold at the Bank of England.
This lawsuit is occurring at a critical time for the people of Venezuela. With the economy already in ruin, the advent of the pandemic has only worsened living conditions for Venezuelans. Maduro claims he is trying to withdraw the gold bullion to provide medical supplies and humanitarian aid as part of his COVID-19 response.
Guaido and other opponents of the current regime argue that Maduro will squander the gold on himself and his associates. They point to the fact that this lawsuit and Maduro’s attempt to access the gold predates the pandemic and that Maduro has a history of liquidating Venezuelan gold for self-serving reasons. Reuters reports that over the last two years the Maduro government has sold nearly 30 tons of gold from its local reserves to support the regime. To avoid a similar outcome, many are calling for the U.K. to deny Maduro access to the Venezuelan gold in the Bank of England.
Maduro’s battle for access to Venezuela’s foreign gold reserves reflects his current domestic battle to take complete and unquestionable control over the country once again. Maduro has recently called for parliamentary elections, attempting to unseat Guaido from his position as president of the National Assembly. Guaido, in turn, has encouraged all Venezuelans to boycott the elections, claiming they will be corrupt. This indictment of the parliamentary elections is echoed by Mike Pompeo, the American Secretary of State, who The New York Times quotes as saying that the elections will be “unfair and unfree.”
Unfortunately for Guaido, two of his own opposition leaders have declared in recent weeks that they will face Maduro in the election, breaking ranks from his opposition-led boycott.
Due to the deliberative nature the legal proceedings of Maduro’s current lawsuit against the Bank of England, a final verdict is probably months, if not years, away. The High Court is expected to produce their ruling within a few weeks, but Guaido’s envoy to the United Kingdom has vowed that Guaido and his government would appeal any ruling favoring Maduro.
Ultimately, either this lawsuit or the proposed elections in Venezuela will settle the question of who the legitimate leader of Venezuela is to the United Kingdom.